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What Curriculum Is Best For A Start Up High School?

As a founding organization begins to develop the plan for building a high school, my experience with startup schools, has found selecting the appropriate curriculum is essential. Choosing the right curriculum is an important decision that can have a significant impact on a the success of the schools high school program, student’s academic and professional future.

There are two main challenges when starting up a high school. The first one is ensuring that students can do the program of study in english and have the self regulating skill set to do the challenges of the course of study. the second challenge is meeting the needs of the parents. They seek an international high school that will prepare their child for entry into a top university overseas.

 As a founding school leader, I have explored the key factors influencing program selection, alignment with academic standards, integration of career pathways, and strategies for fostering student success. When making decisions regarding high school curriculum, I prioritize thoughtful consideration of the goals, values, and needs of the founding school's organization, students, and community.

In my experience the best curriculums found internationally at the high school level are: International Baccalaureates Programme, US Diploma, Advanced Placement, English National (British ) school program. The comparison chart below highlights some key differences between the IB and AP programmes in terms of curriculum, assessment, flexibility, global recognition, and focus. Depending on students' academic goals, interests, and learning styles, they may prefer one programme over the other.


International Baccalaureate (IB)

Advanced Placement (AP)


Comprehensive and holistic, emphasizing international-mindedness and interdisciplinary learning. Includes Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Extended Essay (EE), and Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) components.

Subject-specific, offering a wide range of courses covering various disciplines. More focused on depth of study within specific subject areas.


Assessments include a combination of internal and external assessments, such as examinations, coursework, and oral presentations. Grading is criterion-referenced.

Primarily based on end-of-course exams administered by the College Board. Grading is norm-referenced.


Recognized globally, emphasizing internationalism and cultural understanding. Popular in international schools and among students aiming for international universities.

Offers flexibility in course selection, allowing students to choose specific subjects based on their interests and academic strengths.

Global Recognition

Recognized globally, emphasizing internationalism and cultural understanding. Popular in international schools and among students aiming for international universities.

Widely recognized in the United States, with many colleges and universities offering credit or advanced placement for qualifying AP exam scores.


Emphasizes critical thinking, research skills, and intercultural understanding. Encourages students to become independent learners and global citizens.

Focuses on mastering specific subject content and preparing students for college-level coursework. Emphasizes depth of knowledge and analytical skills within individual subject areas.

As a school Administrator I personally prefer the IB Diploma Programme (IB/DP) over the Advanced Placement (AP). Here are the three points I will discuss regarding the IB/DP Programme: 1) Students have a emphasis on developing personal and social skills. 2) Students are either bilingual or trilingual and have a high proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening in English. 3) These IB/DP creates lifelong learners who are capable of adapting to changing circumstances and contributing to their communities.

My second choice would be the Advanced Placement Program. Here are the three 3 points to consider: 1) All AP courses offer rigorous college-level content. 2) Successful performance on AP exams can earn students college credit or advanced placement in college courses. 3) The AP program offers a wide range of subject areas, allowing students to explore their interests and strengths across various disciplines, from STEM subjects to humanities and the arts.

Startup schools must meticulously evaluate the distinctive characteristics of each curriculum and align them with the individual needs of students and the cultural context of their countries. This approach will guarantee that students receive the highest quality education possible. There is no one size fits all as each country’s education system has its own strengths and weaknesses. While the IB and British curriculums are among the most popular, it’s important for start up schools to consider other options such as the American, French, and Indian curriculums, among others. Ultimately, the best curriculum is one that provides a well-rounded education, fosters critical thinking and creativity, and prepares students for success in their future endeavors. Most importantly if the student and family want entrance to top Ivy league universities, English proficiency is a must.

As an international consultant specializing in the planning and development of comprehensive school curricula, I offer invaluable insights and support to individuals embarking on the journey of establishing new educational institutions.With expertise in leadership, academic training, and a vast international network of colleagues, you may contact me, Dr. Renata McFarland at International Educational Consultants for assistance in curriculum choices for all divisions levels of a founding school.

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